Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mission Creep

As many of us feared, the practice of so-called 'Community Resolution' is quietly spreading to more and more serious offences that ought to come before a court.

It offers a quick clear-up, boxes ticked, files tidied away, and that's the end of it. It's also cheap. These factors were bound to render the practice irresistible to target-driven policemen.


  1. " Offences dealt with in this way do not carry a criminal record or lead to an entry on the police national computer."
    Is this a contributory factor in statistics showing significant reductions in crime?

    1. No, ' crime stats` are taken from a separate system that creates a record as soon as a crime is reported. PNC holds records of arrests, convictions etc on individuals

  2. Of course- it's win win for Government and the penal reform lobby, regardless of the truth.

    1. I'm not so sure it is a win for the government at all. Yes it makes the figures look better but the public don't like to see criminals 'getting away with it' and this is how they will see it. That's a sure fire vote loser and as a government without a majority, unless anyone thinks they will be a long way ahead in the polls come the election, votes will matter.

  3. The first paragraph is the most unnerving:

    'The police are dealing with as many as one in eight violent offences, including knife crimes and domestic violence, by getting the offender to apologise to the victim rather than prosecuting them in court.'

    This will encourage the criminal element, especially the young teen gang members wanting to make a quick name, to carry weapons all the time.

    If someone drew a knife on me I would expect more that just crocodile tears in the form of words of apology. The lawmakers obviously see this in a different light.

    MoJ unveils tendering plans for criminal defence
    Defendants will lose the right to choose their lawyer and instead be allocated a representative, under government plans to introduce price-competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal defence services.
    PCT will be introduced for all criminal legal aid service, except Crown court advocacy and very high-cost cases (VHCCs). The paper says there is a ‘strong argument for including Crown court advocacy in the scope of competition’, but that the Ministry of Justice is not ‘minded to do so’ currently, as the bar is not in a position to participate in the process.

    The MoJ will run tenders in 42 national areas and firms will submit bids based on volumes of work for three-year contracts, though their length may be extended by a further two years. The number of providers will be reduced from 1,600 to around 400.

    Providers could be individual organisations, such as partnerships or legal disciplinary practices, as well as joint ventures or alternative business structures. SERCO/G4S

    Clients will generally have no choice in the provider allocated to them at the point they request advice and will be required to stay with that provider for the duration of their case, save in exceptional circumstances.

    In the foreword to the consultation, Grayling said: ‘Access to justice should not be determined by your ability to pay, and I am clear that legal aid is the hallmark of a fair, open justice system.

    ‘Unfortunately, over the past decade, the system has lost much of its credibility with the public. Taxpayers’ money has been used to pay for frivolous claims, to foot the legal bills of wealthy criminals, and to cover cases which run on and on racking up large fees for a small number of lawyers, far in excess of what senior public servants are paid.’

    Law Society president Lucy Scott Moncrieff said introducing price competition is a ‘huge risk’ and will require a ‘huge reshaping of the way justice is delivered’.

    She added that the government’s timetable for introduction is ‘completely unrealistic’ and warned that it could lead to miscarriages of justice, with defendents stuck in prison far longer than they should be on remand, witnesses not turning up, and cases not being properly prepared.

    Scott-Moncrieff also voiced concern about a blanket ban on all recent immigrants receiving legal aid, saying: ‘Justice shouldn't depend on your status in the country, it should depend on your need.’

    The Society gave cautious support to: the introduction of a threshold for Crown court work, so long as better-off defendants who are acquitted are able to recover their costs; and the reduction in money spent on VHCCs.

    But it strongly opposes the changes to judicial review and the restructuring of Crown court advocacy fees to reduce the costs due to plea changes and late pleas.

    A spokesman said: ‘It is not solicitors who plead, it is clients. Moves to increase rates for the least expensive advocates, who will include many solicitor advocates, are welcome, but we must be careful not to create false incentives to under-prepare for trials.’

    On the removal of client choice, head of legal aid at the Law Society Richard Miller said: ‘Client choice is widely regarded as an important driver of quality in the justice system. It is very concerning, and revealing, that the government appears prepared to sacrifice this vital principle.’

    Bar Council chairman Maura McGowan QC welcomed the decision not to introduce PCT for Crown court advocacy, but said the ‘swingeing fee cuts’ will hit the criminal bar exceptionally hard, and be a ‘bitter pill’ for publicly funded barristers ‘already at breaking point’.

    The consultation ends on 4 June.

    Last week the Law Society published an alternative consultation seeking solicitors’ views on PCT, the results of which will be fed into the Society’s response to the government’s paper.

    Join our LinkedIn Legal Aid sub-group

  5. I should declare an interest at the start; I am a serving police officer and I read these stories and listened to the reporting with some dismay.
    I can't help wondering whether the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) have something to do with these figures. These rules are issued to classify crimes but they bear no relation to the CPS charging standards - nor, often to they bear any relation to common sense or reality. For example HOCR can classify an offence as a GBH because an injury has resulted in a break to the skin, but the CPS would regard this as a common assault or ABH at the very worst. In that scenario an apology for a minor cut seems a more proportionate response than a charge and court case ? The recorded crime would still remain a GBH.
    One should also take into account the reluctance of many victims and witnesses to go to court. No victim - no court case. But the same victim might want an alternative resolution.
    I daresay there are police officers who do want to take the easy way out, they are human beings after all (though many commentators on this blog may find that hard to believe). There are lazy people in all walks of life. But in my experience there are far more officers who do want the appropriate resolution rather than the expedient one. Statistics do not always tell the full story.

  6. This is correct. A few years ago the Home Office came up with the idea of divorcing how a crime was recorded from how a crime was charged and deal with at court.

    Here is an example. A victim gets a minor scratch after the offender came at him with a bottle. This could easily be recorded by the police as a GBH because of the potential for GBH injuries. However, the CPS charge will only ever reflect the injury that was actually caused.

    Yet another example of how government tinkering always causes problems in the long run.

    1. For which offence, in this scenario, would a caution be offered? Forgive me if what follows is naive.

      GBH is a good deal more serious than common assault, as I understand things. I also believe that for our assailant to be offered a caution, he must have no previous record of convictions for similar offences.

      So, the police offer him a caution for the offence of (as they see it) GBH. Assailant thinks this is a quick and easy disposal and says yes.

      An alternative scanario, assailant thinks "this is never GBH, I shouldn't have done it but the victim only got a scratch." declines the caution, goes to the mags and is convicted of common assault.

      Spool forward a few years and assailant, now a reformed person, applies for a job requiring whatever an enhanced CRB check is called this week. The usual practice is for an intending employer to ask a definitely prospective employee whether there is likely to be anything on the CRB which would act as an impediment.

      "Yes" says assailant,"a few years ago I was convicted for common assault." "OK" says the employer (or at least he would if it were me), "tell me about what happened, and we'll see if it is an issue or not."
      "Yes" says assailant,"a few years ago I accepted a police caution for GBH." at which point I would be ushering assailant towards the front door and looking round for the runner-up.

      A bit of a difference, and perhaps one not realised at the time of the caution?

  7. The likelihood (in my experience) is that the caution would be offered for the actual offence. So if the injury was common assault, the caution would be for common assault, even though the crime report would say GBH. There would probably be arguments between the investigating officer and the crime management unit as to whether or not the crime could be 'detected' but that would not change the outcome for the offender - the common assault caution would be recorded on the Police National Computer. However, if you were to look at the statistics taken from the crime report for that offence it would show that a caution had been given for a GBH. You may think this is all completely barmy and you would be right. The vast majority of the police officers I know think this is madness. HOCR drives us crazy because a lot of the criteria for classifying offences are far too rigid and bear absolutely no relation to the actual crime. And frankly if we could abandon targets we would. Sadly someone, somewhere, decided that this is the best way of measuring performance. It isn't. And why do we need to measure performance anyway ?

  8. rex_imperator5 May 2013 at 17:09

    No, no and thrice no. What happens is the police suggest some form of restorative justice and the victim is placed in the position of "take it or leave it". The victim is told how very stressful the court process will be for them and that the lawyers, court officials etc will all have it in for the victim, how they will have to attend lots of times, suffer a Perry Mason type cross examination etc. In response the victims think (not unreasonably) "I don't want that so will agree to the resolution proposed" on the something better than nothing principle. Alternatively, the offer is couched as the CPS not going ahead, but as the assailant has agreed to the caution/apology/whatever, take it on a bird in hand better than two in bush principle.

    Of course there can be cases in court without the victim. DV cases often proceed on a combination of statements, police officer evidence and other materials without the victim. Not often, but it is and can be done.


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